View Full Version : David Foster Wallace

02-10-2016, 10:04 AM
The 20th anniversary of the release of Infinite Jest just happened.
There are several reading groups right now:
see Infinite Winter (ennethouse on twitter)
as well a week by week discussion thread on
(see links on twitter)

I happen to have finished it last month, but have yet to write up ANYTHING about it.
I have also read The Broom of the System as well as Consider the Lobster, etc. Perhaps
I'm more of a fan-page/thread-maker than a review-writer. But if I didn't LOVE it, I wouldn't
go around doing those things...

02-10-2016, 09:49 PM
I haven't read it. What did you like the most about it? What is it about?

02-11-2016, 03:22 PM

There are so many things I like about this book, the characters would be the aspect that kept me
reading though. It is difficult not to start loving (most of) them.

Infinite Jest has three interrelated storylines and few tangential characters who become the focus for awhile.
The tangential characters sometimes reappear and sometimes they don't.
One of the main storylines concerns Enfield Tennis Academy and the Incandenza family (who founded
the tennis academy) and the students at Enfield, especially Hal Incandenza.

Another storyline involves the Ennet Drug and Alcohol Recovery house. The main character in this storyline
is Don Gately, a former thief.

There is also the storyline involving the samizdat, the movie cartridge called Infinite Jest. It was made by
film-maker/tennis academy founder/scientist Jim Incandenza, Hal's father. Whoever watches the cartridge
loses all self-control and is only able to continue watching the cartridge until they starve and die.

This third storyline involves governments/spies trying to get their hands on the cartridge to use for
illicit political goals.

The novel was set in the future but it would now be in the past.

It is a bit of a challenge to sum-up a 1079 page book (100+ pages are endnotes).
It is a great read though.


02-11-2016, 07:05 PM
A movie that kills you by watching it reminds me of The Ring. I didn't actually see the movie, but I did see Scary Movie 3 which parodied it.

I'll see if I can find Infinite Jest in the library. A thousand pages is a lot to read. I remember trying to read the 1001 Nights and only got part way through it.

02-11-2016, 09:21 PM
I thought the American remake of The Ring was excellent and actually enjoyed it more than the Japanese original (called Ringu).

02-11-2016, 10:51 PM
Trying to remember if that is the one with the girl in the well.
And, if it is the one with the girl in the well, how she made
a video if she was a ghost in a well?


02-11-2016, 11:59 PM
According to the Scary Movie 3 version, it was a girl in a well. I haven't seen the one Calidore mentioned, but I will try to find it in the library tomorrow when I look for Infinite Jest. I usually avoid horror movies. I don't like demons popping out at me or dolls suddenly coming to life or devils needing an exorcism.

02-15-2016, 05:07 PM
I will be finished reading Oblivion tonight, probably, and I already have so much
I want to say about the stories that I've finished reading, that it is like a huge,
creepy zit, beside my nose, that is nearing explosive pressure.


Watch out or take cover or whatever.

02-15-2016, 05:29 PM
Looking forward to it.

02-17-2016, 04:10 PM
I. Mister Squishy

There are many reviews of this novella online. None (that I have read) have mentioned the urban dictionary definition of the the title. Quite a few do mention that the story was first published in McSweeney's #5 in (the year) 2000, under the pseudonym Elizabeth Klemm. He had me at 'Klemm', but I am easy that way.

The main character, Terry Schmidt, is a Focus Group Facilitator. I have been in focus groups and worked for marketing companies, and somehow, the sleaze and back-stabbing competitiveness of capitalistic (I'm not anti-capitalist, people in those companies/types of economies admit they are, bottom line, survival of the strongest/meanest/most competitive) organizations. Any one cog in the machine can become obsolete at almost any given point. Humans do not deal with their own obsolescence, usually, very well. Which is what drives this story. What is going on with Terry and just exactly how is he going to react?

Other than the urban dictionary definition and the pseudonym under which the story was written, I also loved that Darlene Lilly's shoe size happened to be 9-DDs. That is a very rare woman indeed.

II. The Soul Is Not a Smithy

I was amazed by the detail of the story the little boy is daydreaming while staring out, into the divided windowpane sections. There is a subtext in this
novella about misunderstandings, miscommunication, and obsolescence. Many of the characters, the dad, the substitute teacher and the boy, also, are under-appreciated and misunderstood. It is the same with the dad in the windowpane story, the little girl and even the puppy.

III. Incarnations of Burned Children

This is a beautifully written, sad, very short story. Another one where a mother isat fault (mostly). (At this point I yell, 'Dude, what's up with that?!) And yet, still...

IV. Another Pioneer

Okay, I meekly admit that this one kept me down, mired in its word-power, while it kicked my butt for few days. But I also really loved it. And I still do.

02-17-2016, 07:01 PM
I read one of Wallace's short stories, "Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR" in the collection Girl With Curious Hair.

There are two characters, a divorced man who is called the Account Representative (AR) and a grandfather called the Vice President in Charge of Overseas Production (VPiCoOP). I am abbreviating their titles since they were not given names. Both of these people are leaving their work so late that their vehicles are the only ones left in the garage. The AR prepares to leave on a motorcycle and the VPiCoOP prepares to leave in his car when the VPiCoOP has a heart attack. The AR knows CPR and attempts to keep the VPiCoOP alive while at the same time calling for help. But it is late at night and no one can hear him.

That's it.

One flaw with the story is that I wonder why the AR did not call 911. Wallace did not cover that when setting up the rescue scene in the garage.

The style is what I call "rambling". It reminded me of some of Gerald Stern's poems. The words flow. They circle about themselves clinging to irrelevant details held together by repetition. Perhaps they mean something but it doesn't matter. All the reader can hope to do is get the general idea and enjoy the sound of the chatter. A reader could try to read stuff into the story, but I like to make sure the story can stand on its own first before investing my imagination into it.

In some ways I like a good stream-of-consciousness ramble. This one left me wondering whether there was enough of a story underlying the sound.

02-18-2016, 10:50 AM
Yeah, that was his first collection of shorts stories/novellas. Most of them were written while he was still in grad school or just after.
They are interesting (I have read about 3 of those) but certainly not of the magnitude of Infinite Jest, the stories in Oblivion or even some of the essays he started writing not too long after that. He was a more of a developing writer then. But I am definitely going to finish reading that collection asap, too.

02-18-2016, 01:30 PM
I've checked out a copy of Infinite Jest. Hopefully, I'll get time to read some of it at least. Wallace is famous and I would like to get a sense of how he writes. I don't mind the rambling style. I did pick the shortest story in that collection.

I'll see if I can find Oblivion.

02-18-2016, 08:35 PM
I'd be curious to hear what you think when you finish-- I started about 2 months ago, dropped it because of time constraints, and unfortunately have yet to pick it back up again.

Along with Ms_Read's recommendation of the characters I'd also like to voice my own appreciation for the weird and wacky narrative details. Including a stampede of hamsters. And Lyle the fitness guru who lives by licking the student athletes' sweat.

There was recently a version released in France to celebrate the anniversary (it's the first translation into French). I'd be curious to hear what you guys thought about the way it was translated-- one person translated the text, and another translated the endnotes. The translator's take (for the main text) is pretty interesting too-- it seems there was quite a bit of friction. He says: "this work was not a personal desire, just a command" and recounts how, after having been rushed through translation and then finally told that someone else would translate the endnotes, "if I do not translate the next Wallace that [the publisher] Oblivion publishes, it will not be for literary reasons but because I have slammed the door on my employer." Do you think it damages the integrity of the text for it to be published with two different translators?

02-20-2016, 09:10 AM
At first, I thought translating the text and the endnotes separately was a terrible and strange idea. But then I considered what a massive enterprise doing both would be, and how it would perhaps, maybe not, but it could double the time it takes if two people didn't work on it. So I have mixed feelings about it. It could damage the text with two translators, but perhaps not as badly as one or both of them being rushed, which is bad and seems to have happened anyway.

02-20-2016, 10:05 AM
Lyle's behavior sounds promising. I picked up "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" for something shorter than "Infinite Jest".

02-20-2016, 06:10 PM
Off the high-dive... :)